Prior to the Jimmy Hill Celebration service, John Motson spoke exclusively to CCFC about his fondest memories of the man football called 'JH'...
Coventry City FC are continuing to pay tribute to Sky Blues’ champion Jimmy Hill and ahead of last weekend's ‘Legends Day’ game at the Ricoh Arena we spoke to BBC broadcasting icon and long-time friend of Hill, John Motson.
Motson's broadcasting career took off when the BBC hired him in 1968 as a sports presenter on Radio 2. Three years later, he gained a role as one of football’s earliest on-screen pundits and was a regular commentator in the 1971-72 season.
Motson’s emerging broadcast career coincided with Jimmy Hill’s move away from football management in 1967/68 and the pair joined forces for the first time in 1973 on one of the BBC’s most celebrated Saturday evening shows, Match of the Day.
Now in his seventies, Motson has remained one of the most identifiable voices in the field of football coverage and the Manchester-born commentator gave us his account of the games’ great innovator, Jimmy Hill.
“I first came across Jimmy when he switched from ITV to the BBC in 1973 – he had already made a reputation as a television analyst by then.
“He made his name as a TV man on ITV with Brian Moore, when he was the first pundit to master the art of analysing the action and slow-motion replays.
“He came to the BBC as the presenter of Match of the Day, in succession to David Coleman and went on to became the ultimate all-rounder.”
Naturally, Sky Blues fans will remember Jimmy Hill as the man who took Coventry City from Division Three to the top flight in the 1960s and with that promotion manufactured the beginnings of the ‘Sky Blue revolution.’
John Motson referenced Jimmy as an ‘ideas man’ and spoke about the wave of groundbreaking changes he bought to Coventry City Football Club and the impact this had on the wider world of football.
“Jimmy was very much an innovator; he brought a new dimension to everything he did. It applied in his role as a manager and the same was replicated in his broadcast career.
“He was full of ideas, of ways things could be improved or suggestions for new approaches and I don’t think anyone matched him for that. Three points for a win – a lot of people believe that Jimmy was the main instigator for that.
“The innovations that he bought in to the club, the Sky Blues shirt and the song have stuck for decades,” Motson recalled.
Jimmy Hill will also be remembered for his contribution to the institutions of the game, many of which still stand in the modern era of football. Motson retold an anecdote from his early experiences with Hill:
“A big step forward was shirt sponsorship and I remember (in his days as Coventry chairman) Jimmy taking me aside and showing me the first set of sponsored shirts, which at that time they weren’t allowed to wear. They had a big ‘T’ on them.
“Jimmy led the way in terms of commercial companies getting their names on player’s shirts. The things he did to change the image of football, he was always thinking of ways of making the game more attractive to the people who watched it.”
Alongside commercialising the game and instigating the need for a minimum playing wage, Hill had a hand in making the game safer and more comfortable for the viewing fans. Motson spoke of his admiration for a manager who he saw as a visionary, and who pioneered ideas that transcended far beyond the accepted parameters of the game:
“He turned Highfield Road in to an all-seater stadium and again that idea hadn’t been developed. He said that it was the way forward, and in that sense he was light-years ahead of time, as that wasn’t made commonplace until after the Hillsborough disaster,” Motson added.
Many will think that Hill’s illustrious career as a football manager was cut short and that he had many more years to give as the talisman of Coventry City. Despite that, Motson spoke of Hill’s latter career as the pinnacle of his role as an ‘innovator’ of the game.
“JH was a personality who was instantly recognisable on everybody’s screens, with Match of the Day being a nationwide programme.
“He was particularly good at spotting something that perhaps had been missed the first time around; he was very clever at watching the game from a different perspective.
“His legacy is more to do with he came up with, in terms of ideas for football. He would often arrive with a different interpretation and point things out to me whilst I was commentating.”
Motson continued to touch upon the impact Hill had on his personal career and gave an outstanding memory of the man who irreversibly changed the face of modern day football:
“He was a very big support mechanism for me and no doubt for other commentators as well because in those days television was starting to get on the front foot where coverage was concerned and Jimmy was able to move it on even more.
“The outstanding memory was when he was presenting Match of the Day and he came to Everton with me. As the BBC wanted to get him there and back fairly quickly they hired a four-seater plane and when Jimmy announced on that evening’s programme that he had done the journey from London to Merseyside in a plane against the backdrop of a nationwide strike and restrictions on fuel, there was a huge backlash from the viewing public.
“Jimmy took it in his stride and made a joke of it, he didn’t stand on ceremony. He never worried about doing things that others wouldn’t have done.”
Motson finished by giving his assessment of the man that football enthusiasts will recall as ‘one of the greats’: “As a football man, Coventry City was his pride and joy.
“It was the individualism in him that made him the figure he was. An honour to have worked alongside and one of the most influential contributors the game will ever see.”